Coheed and Cambria’s new album continues comic book saga in two-part “Aftermath”

In the age of auto-tuned catchy choruses and single-song downloads, there aren’t too many popular bands out there anymore that could call themselves progressive rock. The constantly changing rhythms, classical instrumentation, lengthy guitar solos, elaborate concept albums and songs that last as long as 10 minutes simply aren’t palatable to modern audiences who want a short, catchy chorus and a simple beat. However, there are a few bands with decidedly progressive rock flair that have carved out a niche for themselves. The New York quartet known as Coheed and Cambria is one of those bands, and their October release of “The Aftermath: Ascension” breathes life into a dying genre.
For those who may not be familiar with them, Coheed and Cambria have made a name for themselves from their off-the-beaten-path songwriting style and their complex and aggressive sound. Each song in every album that they’ve released corresponds to an event in a science-fiction comic book series called “Armory Wars,” written by their frontman, Claudio Sanchez.
While understanding Sanchez’s mythos of robots, intergalactic conspiracies and god-like writers isn’t necessary to appreciate their music, it does shed light on the overall tone of each album and the thematic weight to each song. The latest installment in the series is the first of a two-part album, which will be followed with the release of “The Aftermath: Descension” in December.
“The Aftermath: Ascension” is very much a mixed bag in terms of sound, which dances between heavy and bombastic anthems like the opening track “Domino the Destitute,” bouncing pop-rock grooves like “Goodnight, Fair Lady” and haunting ballads like “Aftermath” and “Subtraction.”
Sanchez’s distinctively ethereal falsetto vocal tone and the thematic commonality in the lyrics unite these disparate tracks that should otherwise sound disjointed and incongruous next to each other. But instead of confusing the listener, the shifts in tone and style create seamless transitions in the continuing storyline and paint distinctly individualized pictures of new characters. The songs introducing each of these characters are labeled, “Key Entity Extraction (insert entity number): (insert character name),” and are the strongest tracks on the album.
In the first song, “Domino the Destitute,” Sanchez sings, “We made our beds to lie in, we’re proud, proud of our great mistakes,” as Travis Stever lays down a heavy metal riff out of the Iron Maiden playbook and Josh Eppard pounds his drum kit with steady and relentless force. The result is a picture of a proud, strong and flawed man, gunned down by his ambition and the past he thought he could escape.
We get an equally distinct picture of the schizophrenia of the second key entity, “Hollywood the Cracked,” as the distorted growl of “HOLLYWOOD HOLLYWOOD” shifts to Sanchez’s poppy falsetto brightly chirping that “she’s a few cards short of a full deck.” Other tracks, like “Aftermath” give us soft ballads layered with U2-like airy guitar tones and electronic sampling, or simple pop hooks in “Goodnight Fair Lady” that sound like they escaped from a Beatles album.
Since it’s technically only half an album, it is a little on the short side (only nine tracks), but the intensity of each track makes the length feel appropriate. It is a tightly woven, widely diverse, highly ambitious and very dark piece that successfully highlights the eclectic sound the New York outfit has developed over the years. This is Coheed and Cambria at their best: a mix of screaming guitar solos, poppy hooks, heartfelt anthems, heavy riffs, soft ballads and surreal story-telling.